Ms. Jack is someone I think I could get along with because she is obviously full of integrity. She is an Evangelical that married a Mormon and is now an active part of the bloggernacle. I certainly don’t agree with her on many things. In fact, this post will be a series of (partial) disagreements with one of her comments.
But from what I’ve seen of her comments online, she is making an honest attempt to understand Mormons. Though I feel she often fails in her quest — I would ask all to remember how incredibly difficult it is to get past our own intrenched meaning-memes for the sake of understanding someone else’s. Ms Jack rocks when it comes to making the sincere attempt to communicate and understand.
Consider, for example, this post from T&S a while back.
It led to a discussion about why Evangelicals call Mormons ‘not Christian.’ Ms. Jack said the following on this subject:
I would say that Mormons consider themselves the only true Christians and Protestants return fire by arguing that Mormons aren’t really Christians in the first place.
Please note that I am not endorsing the “Mormons aren’t Christians” argument. That’s not my position by a long shot. I’m just saying it isn’t a one-way thing. Giving lip service to my Christianity whilst insisting that my faith is corrupt and incomplete, my baptism into Jesus Christ is invalid, and I’m not indwelt by the Holy Spirit (i. e. I don’t have the gift of the Holy Ghost) isn’t exactly a flattering assessment of my faith.
The very fact that Ms. Jack is willing to not call Mormons “non-Christians” should make it clear that Ms Jack is sincerely trying to understand Mormonism and is unwilling to settle for lame platitudes and pat answers.
Word Policing: The Power of Nuance
However, since I’ve recently been doing posts on ‘word policing’ this quote seemed apt as a good example of how much nuance matters. In short, I would like to break apart this quote and demonstrate that it’s both entirely true and also somewhat (unintentionally, I believe) misleading.
Mormons As Aggressors?
The first thing I note is that she places the Mormons as the aggressors. We attack first and Evangelicals are just ‘firing back.’ This nuance plays off our natural inclination to ‘excuse’ bad behavior by those that have been unfair attacked.
My feeling is that there was no ‘first shot’ in the religious “battles” between Mormons and Evangelicals any more than there is between any two mutually exclusives religions. The simple fact is that mutually exclusive religions are an “attack” on all that the other holds near and dear by their mere existence. The moment Mormons existed, they were, in a sense, an attack on all other Christians. But no more so than other Christians were an ‘attack’ on Mormons.
I suppose one can emotionally decide what they want to believe here. One could certainly decide that all Christians in the world were minding their own business when Mormons had to go and spoil it by coming into existence. If this is your preference, then, yes, I suppose it’s true that Mormons ‘attacked first’ and other Christians merely ‘returned fire.’ But personally this seems misleading to me at best. I prefer the idea that all religions have a right to exist. And since all religions are always somewhat mutually exclusive from all others, I prefer to not peg one religion as the ‘aggressor’ and one as the ‘defender.’
Nuance is the Emotion In Your Choice of Words
I think another fair complaint is that she is insisting on seeing the Mormon view of her religion in as nearly unfriendly — yet still truthful – a light as is possible. However, that being said, I don’t think it’s an inaccurate light. There is a legitimate sense in which her view can be said to be truthful. Mormons certainly do not see other Christians as equivalent to themselves when it comes to certain issues that she hits upon. But, of course, nor do Evangelicals see Mormons as equivalent to themselves when it comes to the same issues.
Examples of How Words Matter
I, being a Mormon, would not have prefered the choice of words she makes. For one, I’ve long since decided (as have the vast majority of Mormons) that the word “Christian” is not owned by us and actually refers to anyone that sincerely is trying to follow Jesus Christ as taught by scripture. So her first statement rings untrue to me: Mormons do not claim to be ‘the only true Christians.’
But here, I must confess I don’t see her as precisely wrong either. These are just words, after all, and thus there is a range of meanings possible. I suspect “only true Christian” in this context could easily mean “only Christians that have a Church setup by God instead of man” or “only Christians with the full restored gospel.” And this would be an accurate understanding of Mormon beliefs. And, yes, I can see why this would offend Evangelicals for much the same reason why I can see why Evangelicals condemning Mormons (or at least ones that really believe in their religion and aren’t closet Evangelicals) to hell would offend many Mormons.
Likewise, I have serious concerns with her choice of words in the rest. For example:
“My faith is corrupt”: If she means “corrupt” as in the sense of “evil” certainly this is incorrect by modern Mormon standards. (You might convince me Mormons from the past sometimes saw other religions as in some sense evil. There seems to be a mixed view on this in the past that eventually became a view that other religions are not evil.) But if she means “corrupt” as in the sense of a message becoming corrupted (i.e. lost information or accidentally added parts not in the original message) then this seems like an accurate thing to say about Mormon beliefs.
“and incomplete”: Can’t argue with this one.
“my baptism into Jesus Christ is invalid”: Hmm… It’s my understanding that Mormons believe baptisms in other Churches are appropriate and good and that God appreciates them and even recognizes them as sincere attempts to come to Him. But if by ‘invalid’ she means ‘without the necessary authority that will eventually be required for Exaltation’ then ‘invalid’ is probably the right word here. 
However, there is a missing nuance here that is being overlooked. First, Evangelicals do not believe in priesthood authority in the Mormon sense in the first place. So Evangelicals actually agree with Mormons that from within a Mormon theological view (which Evangelicals believe to be wholly false) their baptisms would not be considered ‘valid’ in the Mormon sense.
Second, Evangelicals don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘Exaltation’ in the Mormon sense – as that is the word reserved by Mormons for “Godhood.” So Evangelicals have no interest in their baptisms being ‘valid’ in the Mormon sense and don’t believe it’s possible for a baptism to be ‘valid’ in that sense.
Third, Mormons do see their baptisms as being ‘valid’ for getting one into the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is roughly equivalent to the Evangelical concept of heaven. Therefore, Mormons and Evangelicals are actually in agreement in which sense Evangelicals baptisms are ‘valid’ or ‘not valid.’
It seems to me that all this nuance being left out causes one to pretty much misunderstand the actual LDS position on baptism. Yet, I can see that the statements is true.
“and I’m not indwelt by the Holy Spirit (i. e. I don’t have the gift of the Holy Ghost)”: I can’t help but feel that Ms Jack is mixing doctrines inappropriately here. The Mormon concept of the gift of the Holy Ghost does not map easily to the Evangelical concept of being indwelt by the Holy Ghost. Specifically, Mormons intermix several concepts when they speak of the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of the Lord. They feel that all human beings have what they call “The Light of Christ” which is one form of “The Spirit of the Lord” or “Holy Spirit” when used in an informal sense. And it is my understanding that Evangelicals make no such distinction, so it is not actually correct to say that Mormons don’t believe Evangelicals are not ‘indwelt by the Holy Ghost’ since the Evangelical concept of ‘The Holy Ghost’ is broad enough to include the Mormon concept of the Light of Christ and the Spirit of the Lord.
However, I’m unsatisfied by this explanation as well. For it is true that Mormons do not accept that Evangelicals have what they refer to as “The Gift of the Holy Ghost.” Of all the things Ms Jack says, this one might be the least misleading.
Does “Offensive” Describe Something About the Described Or About the Describer?
One thing I’ve begun to wonder about is if the phrase ‘that is offensive’ is more a description of the object/idea in question or if it’s more a description of the person doing the speaking. Is ‘offensiveness’ innate to an object or is it actually an expression of how that object/idea makes us feel? Or can this sometimes be innate to the object/idea and sometimes merely be a description of our feelings?
Consider Ms. Jack’s next quote:
“isn’t exactly a flattering assessment of my faith”:
If I think of ‘not flattering” as an accurate description of how Ms Jack feels, I guess she’s right about this one. It is not flattering
to in any sense be told your faith is wrong to any degree. I wrote about this at length in a previous post
The problem I see with this comment is that there is nothing unique about the Mormon position here. Evangelicals, without a doubt, consider all religious belief systems differing too much from their own as inferior to their own. I wrote about this at length as well
Church vs. Religion
I can’t help but feel that there is a word game going on with this one. Mormons have a theological concept of “Church” that is intimately tied to ‘religion.’ Evangelicals do not. Therefore when a Mormon says they are the one true ‘church’ they really just mean (in closest possible Evangelical speak) they are the one true ‘belief system’ or ‘religion’ and that in so far other religions differ from them in mutually exclusive ways, they are right and the other religion is wrong.
But isn’t that pretty much true for every religion by virtue of what ‘truth’ means in the first place?
When Evangelicals ‘return fire’ by saying “I can’t believe my Church is the one true Church” they really just mean something similar to (as explained in this post
) “well, actually I believe which Church organization you happen to belong to is meaningless — but I do believe I have the one and only true religion and that all others are false in any way they differ from mine.”
Once we get past the word confusion, it’s not hard to see that there is a direct correlation here between the two religions, and that it was impossible to have it any other way.
Except that there are also noticeable differences as well.
Salvation for All
Ironically, when Evangelicalsmake the claim “I don’t believe I have the one true Church” they seem to be attempting to appeal to the idea that a God that saves more broadly is somehow a better God. Their God ‘saves people in more Churches’ and therefore is a better God then the Mormon God that ‘saves’ only one Church. Or so it seems they are saying.
If that sentiment is true, then Mormons win hands down, period, end of story. For Mormons are semi-universalists and Evangelicals believe in a forever hell that the vast majority of human beings will go to.
The fact is that the only part of Mormonism that isn’t universalist in nature is their treatment of one specific form of salvation, i.e. “Exaltation” (or Godhood.) Evangelicals inform me that they don’t believe in this form of salvation and have no interest in it anyhow. So its hard to see how God holding this back could somehow be an issue for either God or the Evangelicals.
Further, Mormons actually believe that all religions (and even all non-religions) will have a full fair chance to be exalted if they wish, even if right now they think they are not interested. This is handled via the Mormon concepts of salvation of the dead and proxy ordinances.
In short, it’s hard to see how the Mormon concept of ‘one truth Church’ is rationally speaking in any way offensive to Evangelicals.
This is, in a way, ironic. The message of Mormonism is that Evangelicals are basically a true and correct religion in what portions of truth they already believe in. They are really accepting Jesus, really are Christians, and really are going to receive the reward that is the desire of their heart.
The real problem is that Mormons also believe that there is more and that to receive this more Evangelicals (and all religions and non-religions) must eventually — perhaps after death — give up any untrue portion of their beliefs and accept true ones in their place. But that they will only have to do this if they want to and they can instead opt to receive the reward they were expecting.
And this really is a doctrine that offends for being unflattering! Of that, I have no doubt. None whatsoever.
But I have two questions about this:
1. Is it really ‘more offensive’ then believing all religions that differ too much from you go to hell forever, including the vast majority of humanity?
2. Is it really the fault of the Mormons that their beliefs are ‘offensive’ or is ‘offensive’ really just a personal (and accurate) description of how it feels to be told that your personal meaning-meme
is partially false? (Including Mormons when the reverse is done to them by Evangelicals. of course.)
I think the truth is that we should not be offended that Evangelicals believe Mormons are mostly going to go to hell(unless they happen to be a Mormon that happens to believe like an Evangelical.) I think this is a warning often done out of the sincerity of the Evangelical heart and should not be a cause for offensive.
Of course it is “natural” for us to feel offended by this, I admit. But here I see “natural” as being the same sense as in “natural man.” This is the sort of offense God expects us to put aside. Instead, the right way to handle an Evangelical that believes we are going to hell is to kindly disagree with them and use this as a jumping off point to talk about our own beliefs about the nature of God. I would recommend this same approach to the Evangelicals when talking with Mormons.
 I confess I’m over simplifying here. Actually baptism in the LDS Church is understood as related to entering into the Celestial Kingdom, a pre-requisite for exaltation but not equivalent to it.